Before opening statements, judges said 87-year-old Félicien Kabuga had refused to attend but ruled that the trial would go ahead.
He is being tried before the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals (IRMCT) for what prosecutors say is his “substantial” contributions to the genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.
Prosecutors say Kabuga’s radio station Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) broadcast genocidal propaganda and accuse him of arming the dreaded Interahamwe militia.
“The charges against Kabuga reflect his status as a wealthy and well-connected insider,” prosecutor Rashid S. Rashid said in his opening statement.
He said the case reflects Kabuga’s “individual responsibility for serious crimes committed during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.”
Kabuga was arrested in May 2020 at a modest apartment in Paris where he was living under an assumed name after being on the run for 26 years.
As president of RTLM, he had been one of Rwanda’s wealthiest and most influential men among the Hutu elite.
IRMCT prosecutors say he did not wield a machete or pick up a microphone to broadcast hate but his conduct since 1992 pointed to a consistent anti-Tutsi animus.
They told judges that an estimated 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.
Kabuga plead not guilty when he first appeared before the tribunal in November 2020.
Through a statement released by his son on Wednesday, Kabuga said he didn’t trust his lawyer but claimed that the court had denied his requests to pick another one.
“I am therefore forced to be represented by a lawyer in whom I do not trust and prevented from having access to my property to retain the lawyer of choice,” the statement says.
Kabuga faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted. His lawyers have previously argued that he was too ill to be tried but judges and court-appointed doctors disagreed.
His indictment says he is charged with “genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, and persecution on political grounds, extermination, and murder as crimes against humanity, committed in Rwanda in 1994.”